Community Papers

COLUMN: Taking off into the deep blue sky

Roger Ley of the Nelson Civic Theatre is leaving the organization. - Nelson Star file photo
Roger Ley of the Nelson Civic Theatre is leaving the organization.
— image credit: Nelson Star file photo

“Blue sky” people. They’re the open-minded, we-can-do-it thinkers that don’t take no for an answer. Grounded, pragmatic people are the landing gear of a project, so to speak, but the blue sky folks are the dreamers that gets us airborne.

Nelson Civic Theatre’s Roger Ley is a blue sky guy, beginning with the inaugural can-we-save-the-Civic meeting in April 2012 and continuing through the ad-hoc group that followed. He was someone everyone in that room needed because the challenge was daunting: could we really put together a proposal for the city by the May 31 deadline?

Of course we can, he said.

Me, I’m a landing gear kind of person. So when the Nelson Civic Theatre Society was formed in June of that year, Roger and I made a good team as vice-president and president respectively: feet on the ground, head in the sky, and sights set on the exciting potential for the Civic.

Roger, with his background in theatre, was a natural showman and an excellent spokesperson for the project. I was happier in the background lining up ducks, making sure they weren’t flapping all over the place in enthusiastic abandon. Underlying it all was hard work: Roger always had a keen eye for the flight path.

But here’s the thing: whenever Roger said something everybody listened. Why? Because he’s a blue sky guy, and in no time he captured the imaginations of Nelson folks who have a propensity for looking up, and like to have a good excuse to do so. Double rainbows can sometimes be seen. Optimism is a powerful thing.

We made that deadline, and the next one, and in no time we had 2,000 members, a knockout group of volunteers, local businesses on board and City Hall nodding and smiling. Roger stepped away from the NCTS board to take on the job of project manager in charge of fundraising, and in two months more than $185,000 was raised for the Civic to go digital.

From the beginning, as far as Roger was concerned, it was never about one person’s vision: it was about the community. And Roger has always had the highest expectations of Nelson.

In a theatrical announcement of the extraordinary, over-the-top results of the Community Challenge to go digital, Roger stated, in quintessential Roger style, “Our community is no ordinary community. We encourage our kids to wear tutus, we drop everything when there’s fresh ‘pow’ at the hill, and we don’t let our size dictate our abilities!”

Roger knew from the beginning that there is enough blue sky for everyone, and his legacy is the optimism that will carry us forward. Legacy, you ask?

Roger is expanding his horizons with a little travel. And although I’m sure he’ll keep a toe in (speaking from experience, it’s impossible not to) we’ll miss his daily optimism and positive energy.

The Nelson Civic Theatre is a big project, but blue sky thinking is infectious.

Thanks to Roger, I’ve learned to trust the weather. It’s been an extraordinary time.

Now, as the Civic gears up for its annual membership drive, we’re in a great place. Imaginations have been captured, and renewing members and members-to-be celebrate their theatre as a going concern and clearly see where it can go. Today, we have more than 2,300 members and 200 active volunteers. Where once we had to describe that blue sky future, it’s become the collective vision Roger said it would.

Thanks, Roger, from me and from everyone at the Civic. I know they join me in saying: May all your skies be blue, your rainbows multiple, and your flight path clear.


— Anne DeGrace is the past president of the Nelson Civic Theatre Society, which is working to develop a multi-venue community space for movies, live performance, and more. To find out more go to

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